Catlin Bogard has been following college basketball for six seasons in the Ohio Valley Conference before moving to Buffalo and joining WKBW. You can follow him on twitter @CatlinBogard
It's not been the best start to the season for much of the Big 4: Buffalo and Canisius each have a big loss to Top-10 competition, and the Griffs and Purple Eagles are still searching for their first wins.
The thing that's quite unique to college basketball is, for the vast majority of Division I, the season doesn't really begin until conference play kicks off in late December or January. The rest of the schedule? Just consider it a six week long preseason.
...only we do actually count wins and losses.
This first month of the season is much more about growth and adjustments: How will Niagara bounce back from another close loss. Can Canisius find their offense? Who runs the Buffalo offense, and can they defend without fouling?
St. Bonaventure could be the exception -- reverse one or two losses from last year, and the Bonnies are playing in the NCAA's, not the NIT. But do they have the talent, especially on defense, to string together enough wins to make the A-10 Tournament a non-factor?
Here's Wednesday's edition of the 4-on-4:
1. The refs in Cincinnati were not good...but UB also couldn't take advantage.
Here's the thing about the ridiculous amount of foul calls on Monday night: the refs were consistent in their calls. (Consistently awful, I hear UB fans cry) But there's a good reason Xavier was called for 17 fewer fouls than Buffalo: they attacked the basket better. UB, due in part to digging an early deficit, became very jump shot happy, scoring just 8 points-in-the-paint all game. Xavier scored 40, and that doesn't include all the free-throws they made as a result of getting into the paint.
Now 23 personal fouls (including the 2 offensive ones) That's more than 131 teams all yr (and ties UB's total vs Niagara)
— Catlin Bogard (@CatlinBogard) November 15, 2016
UB isn't the only team seeing whistle-happy referees: Niagara has had more total fouls called on them in three games (79) than any team in the nation. Buffalo has seen 61 personal fouls, despite playing one fewer game.
The number of free-throws is up from last season...but it's not dramatic. The average free-throw rate (the number of free-throws a team shoots per 100 possessions) has risen from 36.6 last season to 38.4 this season. For an average game, that's an additional 3-4 free-throws between both teams combined
2. We'll know a lot more about St. Bonaventure's at-large chances after tomorrow night's game at Florida
The Gators were ranked 45th in the RPI last season, and even if Florida has a down year it's hard to imagine them falling outside the top-100. The Bonnies don't have a lot of chances at top-100 RPI wins this year outside of conference play -- with Hofstra and UNC Wilmington the other likely possiblities. Bona may need to take two of those three to have a realistic chance of making an at-large run.
The bonus Florida has over the other two: they're in the SEC. When humans are making the calls that matter at the end of the season, name recognition matters. They know who the Gators are. That's probably not the case with either team out of the Colonial.
That being said -- a loss doesn't doom their chances, and a win on the second game of the season sure isn't any kind of guarantee. It's a good litmus test, and a good opportunity to show some early strength.
3. Don't believe the score: Canisius offense is solid. The defense? Um...
When you see the Griffins only put up 64 points in a loss to Cleveland State, you're initial reaction is likely that the offense wasn't that great.
That wasn't the case at all. The offense was quite efficient, putting up 1.08 points per possession. (1.02 is the national average) The game was just played that slowly. Canisius and Cleveland State each had 59 possessions, putting the game in a rare group of slow play. The average possession was above 20 seconds, which again is quite rare.
There's one reason that number is so high: Canisius can't keep teams off the offensive glass. Cleveland State had 15 offensive rebounds off 32 misses -- that's nearly half. Cleveland State didn't shoot the lights out, but if you can't get rebounds to end possessions, they don't have to.
Head coach Reggie Witherspoon's Buffalo teams were usually quite strong in this regard, so I doubt it's a product of the scheme. But it's something that needs to be fixed quick if the Griffs are going to get back to the winning seasons were were used to under Jim Baron.
4. Niagara's most recent losses should be troubling...but I'm still convinced they're better
I was somewhat encouraged after the Purple Eagles loss to UB -- they really competed well against the bigger and stronger Bulls. But since then, things aren't going that well. Niagara lost on the road to Brown in a game where they couldn't keep the Bears off the line, and most recently lost in overtime to a team KenPom has ranked 332nd nationally.
But, I still can't help but look at the positives: Junior guard Matt Scott is going to have another great season, James Towns (pictured at the top of this post) is showing a lot of promise for a freshman, and as mentioned above Niagara is hardly alone adjusting to the new way fouls are being called, and while their offense isn't particularly good (ranking 320th in efficiency) it appears fixable -- there's not one area Niagara is just bad in, the offense just isn't clicking.
Their best chance at their first win comes next week, when they host Drexel. If they lose that, I may start worrying a bit more. For now, Niagara still looks like a team that can be competitive in the MAAC.
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